An as-told-to interview with a Chicago publishing whiz, for our Spring Books issue.
“The name ‘Curbside Splendor’ comes from my years at Champaign-Urbana, when I went to school there in the mid-90s. Back then, for a brief while, I tried to play the guitar. I sucked, but some friends and I talked about starting a band and traveling, and this band was going to be called Curbside Splendor. That idea rightfully died shortly after conception. But the name always stuck with me, and so, when I started a small press about two years ago, it immediately came up.
Why did I start a small press? Initially it was just to publish my first novel, Sophomoric Philosophy. My background isn’t in writing. I’m a CPA. I work for Jim Beam, that’s my real job, and also am a part owner of Beauty Bar on Chicago Avenue. But I’d always wanted to write a book. As I worked with my editor to finish it and figure out what I wanted to do with it, I realized how difficult it is to get published by a big publisher. I also figured out that more and more people were self-publishing, and so I decided to pursue that. As I did it, I decided to engage friends of mine who were creative to work on the design and artwork for the book. I had a website created, started the company, and all that. Doing this—and beginning to meet other writers and publishers, encouraging literary events to occur at Beauty Bar—I discovered the world of independent/small publishers, especially the ones here in Chicago like Green Lantern Press, Rose Metal Press, Featherproof Books. And I was fascinated. I realized that these entities were not just making books—they were making art objects. And I was inspired. I decided to take the platform I’d started with Curbside Splendor and seek out others to join me and be a part of this thriving literary community. So here we are, and it’s been a ton of fun thus far.
With a publisher like us, the author-publisher relationship becomes a true working partnership. The success of a book depends heavily on the work the author puts into marketing it; like all small presses, we lack any sort of significant marketing or distribution network. But we work like hell, and our goal is to make a beautiful-looking book. We love pairing artists with writers and incorporating the artwork with the design. That’s the real benefit to the author of working with Curbside.
In terms of a niche, I’d say that Curbside’s aim is to present artful books that can be enjoyed by the casual reader or the urban reader. But we’re also in the process of creating different imprints that will focus on other areas. Like this summer we’re launching Concepcion Books, which will focus on romantic poetry, with the work presented in English and Spanish. Why? My mother was born and raised in Mexico, and as a teenager I was inspired by reading the books she had of romantic Latin poetry. So I guess I have a soft spot for that stuff, and it’s sort of a tribute to my mom.
I’ve really enjoyed planning and putting on literary events and parties. I’ve come to discover that there’s a whole literary scene going on. Every night there’s some kind of reading somewhere. At Beauty Bar we have a recurring series called Two With Water Rx that’s always fun. We’re now in the works of planning further such parties, teaming up with the likes of the Chicagoan magazine. In fact we’re partnering with them to put on a literary/music night on Thursday, July 26, at the Empty Bottle, featuring writers Joe Meno, Patrick Somerville, Jac Jemc, and Franki Elliot with a nice lineup of bands. It’s an area I find interesting, merging music shows with readings, and so we’ll see where all this goes.”